Doctors have successfully removed a baby girl's parasitic twin through a complicated and high-risk operation.
The baby, known only as Dominique, would have lived a short life full of pain if she had not been able to undergo the procedure. Dominique had a twin in the womb, but her twin had not been able to develop properly. It thus fused to Dominique's body.
The 10-month-old girl had a pair of legs, which belonged to her unformed twin, growing out of her back. The twin's spine also fused to Dominique's. Her parasitic twin may not be an actual person, but it was putting a strain on Dominique's body. Doctors had to surgically remove the twin because Dominique's heart and lungs were working for essentially two individuals.
As Dominique grew, her twin would have grown with her as well. However, this would have taken a toll on Dominique. The pair of legs growing out of her back would have caused deformity. It also would have placed abnormal pressure on Dominique's spine, which would have caused pain for the rest of her life.
Dominique had to travel from her home in the Ivory Coast to the US, where she could get life-saving surgery. A team of five surgeons at the Advocate Children's Hospital in Illinois operated on her for six hours, and the surgery was successful. The doctors were able to remove the parasitic twin without complications.
However, those complications were a very real possibility. Removing a parasitic twin is dangerous enough, but the positioning of Dominique's twin made the surgery more complicated. The doctors said that there was a possibility that the surgery may paralyze Dominique because it may destabilize her spine.
The surgeons had to take a lot of scans of Dominique's anatomy to distinguish which parts belonged to her or her twin. With these scans, the doctors were able to create a 3-D model of Dominique's two spines. They even discovered a second bladder that they would have to remove along with the extra pair of legs. The imaging helped them create a very detailed surgery plan that minimized the surgery's risks.
The formation of parasitic twins is very rare. According to a 2010 study, there's literally a one in a million chance for parasitic twins to develop. In the off-chance that it does happen, however, it means that a pair of identical twins has failed to separate. One of the twins, however, forms mostly normally. That twin becomes a “host”, because it still carries the other twin's tissues. Those tissues are alive, but are entirely dependent on the host twin.
As of March 21, doctors say that Dominique is doing well and is recovering from the surgery. Dominique is under the foster care of an Illinois woman, Nancy Swabb. The baby girl's parents were unable to afford to travel to the US with her, so a foster family in Illinois has been taking care of her. In a few weeks, though, Dominique will be well enough to travel back home, unencumbered by her parasitic twin.
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